Tower Hamlets Council has no foreign policy responsibilities, we elect Members of Parliament to undertake that role.
As a result, no local political party has any mandate to discuss foreign policy (although that did not stop the majority of Tower Hamlets Councillors voting to recognise Somaliland a few years ago!) and there are more than enough local issues and concerns to keep us busy.
But inevitably there are three foreign issues that do get mentioned a lot in Tower Hamlets, so I wanted to express my personal opinions on them and what I would do if elected Mayor (where relevant).
Because one of them (Palestine) creates internal divisions within Tower Hamlets.
Which is really odd because the foreign policy issue where people in Tower Hamlets could be most active is China, the Chinese occupy Tibet illegally and they are destroying democracy in Hong Kong. The Chinese Communist Party is destroying the culture and religion of the Uighurs in Xinjiang (they are Muslim), they have been locked up in camps by the millions and are made to do forced labour. The Chinese government owns an important site here IN Tower Hamlets, to be their future Embassy, they give gifts of wine to local politicians HERE. There has already been a protest outside the embassy site but by people from outside of Tower Hamlets. Only Cllrs Rabina Khan, Peter Golds, and I have made any real effort on this. It is barely mentioned on social media here. Why no regular protests outside the Chinese Embassy here?
Why are people so passive about China despite its abuses when they could do something here by making clear their position on the Chinese Embassy, where are the protests outside the Embassy? I thought I was taking a political risk by supporting the principal of the Embassy of the people of China moving here but making clear my opposition to the Chinese Communist Party by renaming a road in front of the embassy, see below, but very few seem to be interested. Why?
But if you decide to base your local election vote on international issues – please do not vote for me. Local government is also important and should be decided on local issues.
This conflict is an ideological struggle between those who have chosen Europe, peace and democracy, and a dictator, Putin who believes in neither, who wants to reverse their democratic choice through force because of his warped sense of history. Democracies need to support each other, and this is why we are also directly involved in this conflict as well. It is also geographically in our neighbourhood. As British people, we are also combatants in this struggle even if our weapons are mostly economic and diplomatic. It is precisely why NATO is so essential, only by acting together are we strong enough to deter Putin, Ukraine would not have been invaded had it been in NATO, which is precisely why they wanted to join.
It is what makes it different to many other conflicts – where often two other peoples compete with each for control of land and where as a result we are not involved even if we have sympathy with one or both of the combatants.
But this crisis may also have a direct impact on life in the UK in terms of refugees, government spending, and our food and energy bills. If sanctions are to hurt Russia, they will also hurt us as well. But we have no choice.
And it is scary how history repeats itself. In the 1930’s we had apologists for Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, two of the three greatest butchers of the 20th century (Mao was the 3rd). Like the British Union of Fascists. We now have people in the UK repeating some of the Russian propaganda points, more on this later and below (but who don’t also comment on China).
But increasingly I wonder how many ‘people’ on social media here are actually here, we know the Russian government pays people to create fake profiles on social media, pretending to be somebody else in order to spread disinformation and confusion. It is called hybrid war, destabilise your opponent by creating internal division. They seem to be more successful at that than on their conventional military.
People seem to have forgotten that for all of their fault’s democracies are far superior to dictatorships. And I will talk about one of those faults, race later.
What would I do as Mayor?
I will welcome people from Ukraine moving here with practical help, we already have a Ukrainian community here in London.
And make clear that the blame for this conflict solely resides with Putin and not the Russian people, some of whom live with us here in Tower Hamlets and are very welcome. We need to encourage a brain drain out of Russia, so we need Russians to feel safe and welcome. The oligarchs who work with Putin are different.
But the main impact on Tower Hamlets may be an economic one especially those suffering from fuel poverty and 20% of global wheat production is in Ukraine & Russia. So we need to make sure people are prepared for those food cost rises.
China – Hong Kong, Tibet, and the Uighurs
My views on the Chinese Communist Party are:
• I strongly object to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control of China, they have kept China poor isolated, and backward for 70 years. Compare Taiwan, free, rich, and democratic on a per person basis to mainland China to see how unsuccessful the CCP has been by comparison.
• The Communist party since before the founding of the Republic has been directly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese people – see the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
• That if threatened they will kill, silence, or imprison you
• There is limited freedom of religion, and they see all religions but especially Islam as a threat
• They do not respect the individual nor the rule of law
• They treat the Chinese people like children who cannot be trusted with any responsibility
• They are colonial occupiers of Tibet, they have destroyed democracy in Hong Kong, they are trying to erase a whole people in the Uighurs by removing their culture and religion
• I worry that after Ukraine Taiwan is next (but the Western response to Ukraine has I think greatly reduced that chance)
What I would do as Mayor
Because the Chinese Embassy is moving to Tower Hamlets, we have some involvement as a result:
1. I welcome the Embassy moving here – I do want good relations with the Chinese people, my disagreements are with the CCP, and the embassy building should last much longer than the CCPs control of China – I want the embassy staff to see how a democratic multi-cultural, multi-national, free Tower Hamlets actually works
2. But there are a number of serious planning issues to resolve first related to security in particular
3. I will add a new name to the short section of road in front of the embassy with no current name – personally, I like ‘Tiananmen Square’ (because of the massacre of 1989) but which the Chinese government cannot object to as it is an important landmark in Beijing but am happy to consult on the name
4. I won’t accept any gifts from the Chinese government and will return any sent in the post
5. I will welcome people from Hong Kong moving here with practical help (the government has announced a programme of support, but I am unclear what is happening here)
Is the most dangerous conflict for us here in Tower Hamlets because of the internal divisions it can create here. It is not the worst, biggest nor most dangerous conflict in the world but it is the only one that is able to create real division here in Tower Hamlets because for some Tower Hamlets residents it is a part of their political identity even though they are not Palestinians.
Some British people have chosen to wholeheartedly support one side, Palestine. Since the invasion of Ukraine, what they mainly want to talk about, is Palestine. They are suggesting we should all respond to Palestine and Ukraine in the same way. I would suggest there are some differences.
And as a British person, I do not have to pick a side, I support both Israelis and Palestinians equally, Jews and Muslims equally. It is not possible to do that in Ukraine (because the conflict is between a dictator Putin and the people of Ukraine (not Russia versus Ukraine)).
But for a small number of people that is not possible, this is black and white, good versus evil and if you won’t support the Palestinians, then you are on the other side, a Zionist. There can be no middle course, of being compassionate to both sides in Palestine.
As we live in a democracy, you can of course pick whichever side you want to support or to believe in.
AS LONG AS:
1. It does not affect your personal relationships with your neighbours who may have different views or support another side in a foreign conflict – in this country we need to live in peace and harmony with each other
2. It does not result in direct action nor violence here
3. It does not bring into the UK the ugly stain of anti-Semitism (and after the Ukraine invasion that was again very evident on some social media channels)
For example in May 2021 the cars with Palestinian flags that drove through areas of London with many Jewish residents while honking their car horns and screaming “F*** their mothers, rape their daughters.”
What I personally think about Israel and Palestine
• I support a two-state solution based on the borders approved in 1947 by the United Nations
• Both peoples deserve to live in peace, but that can only happen when both peoples are free from fear, Israeli security therefore depends on Palestinian security
• As a result Israel is illegally occupying land that it will have to hand back or swap one day in negotiations
• Israeli Arabs are in an odd situation, while having many more rights than their neighbours (for example in Syria) they often have worse outcomes and fewer opportunities than Israeli Jews, but with an Arab Muslim party (United Arab List) supporting the current Israeli government I am not sure that the term apartheid state fits but unless Israel does more to improve the life of its Arab citizens then that title may become to be deserved
• Gaza is blockaded by Egypt (which never gets mentioned) and Israel because both do not trust Hamas, they control what is allowed to enter
• There are opponents of peace on both sides – Hamas does not want peace and the Israeli settlers want land that is stolen from others
• Israeli armed forces know that their tactics will result in many more Palestinian than Israeli deaths (which is one reason why Hamas launches rockets) and as a result, their tactics at times are borderline war crimes (and some individual Israelis have committed serious crimes against Palestinians knowing they will get away with it)
• So, yes it is possible to be very critical of Israel, I do not buy any goods from Israel until I can be sure they are not from any occupied territory.
BUT this is also true
• Jews have been killed for thousands of years because of who they are, in many countries across Europe and IN the Middle East.
• The Jews were expelled from England in 1290, it is now the home for some, but no Jew should ever fear living in this country
• My German grandparents lived in a country that tried to murder every Jew in Europe (& almost succeeded) – it makes me very conscious about anti-Semitism today
• There used to be large and vibrant Jewish communities across the Middle East, who had been there for thousands of years (Iraq) now they are almost all gone, forced out (some of this happened before the foundation of Israel i.e. the Farhud in Baghdad 1941), so it is not just the Palestinians who lost their lands. The Jews forced out of other parts of the Middle East are now the largest Jewish group in Israel, why should they leave the Middle East?
As a result, I cannot argue against the need for a Jewish homeland as long as it is democratic and gives all of its citizens equal opportunities and treatment.
Israel will have to give up some of the lands it controls, Palestinians need to hold new elections, they need their own state, Hamas needs to change or be replaced, the settlers need to accept that they will be living in a Palestinian state or leave. How this will be achieved has to be led by the two people involved with support from us. And yes, some pressure.
But violence is not the answer, both sides have tried violence for 80 plus years and failed to resolve the principle of how to share land.
People may have different and completely acceptable views on other solutions. But there is, unfortunately, a casual or sometimes deliberate strain of anti-Semitism in some of the objections to Israel (& why is it the most important issue here for many but not China?).
So I think the key question to ask people who focus on Israel so much is whether or not they have any Empathy and Sympathy for both sides in this conflict but especially:
1. Has that individual made clear they are supportive of the local Jewish community? That in their criticism of the actions of a foreign government they have made clear that it is separate and unconnected from what happens here?
2. Are they conscious of the unique history of the Jewish people including the many pogroms in different countries and the holocaust, where Jews were slaughtered over who they are, that there are good reasons why Israeli Jews act the way they do, even if like me you think their methods maybe counterproductive?
3. Do they support a two-state solution as mandated by the UN in 1947?
4. Do they think Jews have the right to live in the Middle East or not?
If the answer is no to the majority of these questions, then I would suggest their motivations are not pure, but that they are partisans in this conflict and not really interested in finding peace.
BUT I do worry that Palestine gets mentioned so often given that it is not the worst, longest or biggest foreign policy problem we have
• Ethiopia – until Ukraine, was far and away the worst conflict underway in the last two years as measured by the number of refugees and the number of dead. But it never gets mentioned in Tower Hamlets.
• Bashar al-Assad has killed many more people in his bid to stay in power in Syria – but I rarely see him mentioned let alone condemned, the same with ISIS
• Kashmir is also disputed territory with similar issues to Palestine but is mentioned less often than Palestine
• Venezuela has seen huge refugees’ outflow almost comparable to Syria but never gets mentioned here
• Rohinga Muslims displaced by Myanmar
• Tibet – occupied by China since 1950
• Xinjiang – an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to remove the Islamic faith from millions of people
• North Korea – a nuclear armed state run by 3 generations of one family
• Muslims in Crimea (Tatars) – the original inhabitants of the Crimea did not support the takeover by Russia in 2015 and are being oppressed but never get mentioned here
• And there are many more occupations and conflicts I have not mentioned
What I would do as Mayor
Make sure that we do not bring the hatred and division of the Middle East into Tower Hamlets.
Make sure schools are educating children about the complex history of Palestine and the Jews.